What was a "dangerous trend" even in EP became “democracy crisis” for those who want directly supervise the EU member nations based on this, not proven at all pretext

Parliament in Session: Situation in Hungary [European Parliament Audiovisual, July 2, 2013]

<video trascripted in the other post>

MEPs debated the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Most MEPs felt that the constitutional reforms adopted by the Hungarian government set a "dangerous trend" moving the country away from EU values. Others said the Tavares report tabled for a vote on Wednesday was "politically motivated" and that Parliament would be exceeding its powers if it adopted it.

Situation of fundamental rights – standards and practices in Hungary: statements by – Rui TAVARES (Greens/EFA, PT), Rapporteur – José Manuel BARROSO, President of the EC – Viktor ORBAN, Prime Minister of Hungary [European Parliament Audiovisual, July 2, 2013]

Type: NEWS   Reference: 94226   Duration: 00:04:12  Lieu: Strasbourg, France – European Parliament     End production: 02/07/2013   First transmission: 02/07/2013

MEPs debated on the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary in light of the amendments drawn to Hungary’s Constitution earlier this year in the presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor ORBAN and of European Commission President Jose Manuel BARROSO. Rapporteur Rui TVARES (Greens/EFA, PT) presented his report entitled “Situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary”. Mr. TAVARES highlighted that a 22-point amendment proposal was submitted to the country’s new constitution which was voted one year ago. Mr. TAVARES also stressed that provisions “of serious concern” include one which states that the top court may only review the Basic Law and its amendments on procedural grounds, as well as a passage that annuls all Constitutional Court rulings that took effect before January 1, 2012

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Exterior shot of the European Parliament in Strasbourg

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Cutaway shots the arrival of Viktor ORBAN, Prime Minister of Hungary (5 shots)

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SOUNDBITE (Hungarian) Rui TAVARES (Greens/EFA, PT) Rapporteur: ""The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights belonging to minorities." (In English): These words, my friends, dear President, Prime Minister, are the words in Article 2 of the treaty in the European Union.

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SOUNDBITE (English) Rui TAVARES (Greens/EFA, PT) Rapporteur: "These words are not a bureaucratic invention, these words are not an imposition, these words are of our member states. Hungary, in particular, not only signed these words, Hungary wrote these words with other member states. The question for our debate here today is "Do we take these words seriously or not?"

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SOUNDBITE (English) Rui TAVARES (Greens/EFA, PT) Rapporteur: "We reached a very important conclusion in this report, that the changes in Hungary have been systemic, that they have a general trend and this general trend moves away from the values in Article 2. This is a very serious conclusion and one that needs to be taken seriously by all institutions concerned: by us, by the European Commission to whom we ask a rule of law mechanism and Article 2 in our agenda to deal with this, by the Hungarian government to whom we address 30 general recommendations for the future, that of course they will follow with their own timetable objectives and in a dialogue, or let’s say a trilogue with the three institutions."

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SOUNDBITE (English) José Manuel BARROSO, President of the EC: "Let me assure this house that the Commission, as guardian of the treaties will continue to ensure that legislation and, in the Hungarian case, the fundamental law of the state is made compatible with EU law where necessary. We have showed all our diligence, as we did it last year, when we launched two infringement cases against Hungary."

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SOUNDBITE (English) José Manuel BARROSO, President of the EC: "On the 17th of June, the Venice Commission issued its opinion on the 4th Amendment to the Hungarian fundamental law. The opinion of the Venice Commission confirmed our concerns as regards the compatibility of the 4th Amendment with the rule of law. We expect that Hungarian authorities will take due account of this opinion and address it in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values."

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SOUNDBITE (Hungarian) Viktor ORBAN, Prime Minister of Hungary: "We have a report before us today which is very negative about Hungary. The Hungarian government has worked on these issues and is now submitting a memorandum to the President of the European Parliament to resolve these issues. The report is very unfair vis-a-vis Hungary, very unfair vis-a-vis the people of Hungary. You are applying double standards in this report, there’s no recognition of certain enormous efforts that have been deployed in Hungary in order to help modernize the country. This is simply forgotten, denied."

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SOUNDBITE (Hungarian) Viktor ORBAN, Prime Minister of Hungary: "The report that is tabled before you today is a serious danger, a threat for Europe, I would say. Not so much for Hungary because, after all, Hungary even to date has been working, if you like, against the trend. Even here in the European Parliament we’ve been swimming against the trend, we’ve been moving forward. But tomorrow you will be voting on a report that really has to do with the future of Europe. In this report you have some proposals and these proposals are not in line with the founding treaties of the union. You’re suggesting here setting up a mechanism, an institution which is not anchored in the treaties and it would mean that member states of the union could find themselves under guardian ship in the future."

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Cutaway shot with rapporteur Rui TAVARES (Greens/EFA, PT)

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Tavares report called unjust in a European Parliament debate today in Strasbourg [Government – Prime Minister’s Office – News, July 2, 2013]

In a debate held in the European Parliament today in Strasbourg, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called the report drafted on the state of fundamental rights in Hungary by rapporteur Rui Tavares unjust.

The Prime Minister emphasised that Hungarians would be delighted to see a Europe of free nations rather than that of subordination. Drawing conclusions from the past, Hungarians do not want a Europe where successful countries are punished and placed under guardianship, large countries abuse their power, double standards are applied and only small countries have to respect the larger ones and not the other way round, he said, adding that the Tavares report that will be put to the vote on Wednesday applies double standards, poses a serious danger to Europe, violates the Treaty on the European Union and arbitrarily defines criteria.

The Prime Minister also put forward that he had no false illusions about the outcome of Wednesday’s vote on the report and he expects the Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs to vote against Hungary considering the fact that economically motivated political pressure is being applied through European institutions.

At a press conference following the debate, the Prime Minister outlined some legislative changes introduced by the Government, emphasising their democratic nature and their deep embedment in European civilization and heritage. When it comes to marriage and the family for example, the Prime Minister said, Hungary is defending a 4000 year long tradition: a 2000 year long Jewish and a 2000 year long Christian tradition. He also stressed that Hungary does not want to be defended against herself as the current government has been voted at free and democratic elections, as also been acknowledged by the Venice Commission.

The Prime Minister finally asked for more respect and more recognition on the part of the European Union, hoping to get encouragement for what Hungary has accomplished in recent years.

(Prime Minister’s Office)

IN NEED OF NEW TOOLS: PROTECTING DEMOCRACY IN EU MEMBER STATES [Democracy Reporting International, July 3. 2013]

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The democracy crisis in Hungary has triggered considerable soul-searching in the EU about the “Copenhagen dilemma”. While aspiring member states are vetted on the basis of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria – including commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law – once a state becomes a member, the EU does little to monitor that these
standards are upheld and to enforce remedies if a crisis occurs.

The current situation in Hungary has shattered an assumption held for more than half a century, namely that membership in the EU is in itself a guarantee against an erosion of democratic standards. The problem goes beyond Hungary however. In the past there have been controversies about Austria, Italy and Romania. With 28 members and more aspirants on the doorstep, the EU must get used to the idea that backsliding may occur in a member state, be it an old or newer member. A democracy crisis in one member state is not a domestic affair of that state only. The Union is founded on the assumption that all members abide by its shared values. With each member state acting as a co-legislator in the Council, the legitimacy of EU law is undermined if one member falls short of its obligation to uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The EU must now establish robust, comprehensive, long-term tools to address threats of democratic backsliding. These tools should address in particular the three central tenets of the EU’s values as expressed in Article 2 of the EU Treaty: democracy, the rule of law and human rights, including minority rights. Currently the EU debate is too narrowly focussed on only one of these values, namely the rule of law.

Recommendations:

  • New tools or mechanisms to address democracy crises in member states should be designed for the long-term;
  • They should be designed to ensure adherence to all values expressed in Article 2 with a special focus on democracy, human rights and the rule of law;
  • The international (UN) and regional legal and political frameworks (Council of Europe, OSCE) should be used for an understanding of Article 2 values
  • Any new mechanisms should ensure coherence between pre-accession negotiations and postaccession monitoring, as well as between the EU’s internal dimension and its foreign policy objective of a rule-based international order;
  • In the debate on new mechanisms the elements of fact-finding, assessment and enforcement should be distinguished with enforcement questions deserving most discussion;
  • Given the immediate relevance of democratic standards in each member state for all EU citizens, there should be a wide public debate on the EU’s role and powers in ensuring these standards.

WHAT CRITERIA? A LONG-TERM SOLUTION SHOULD ENCOMPASS
ALL FUNDAMENTAL VALUES

COMPREHENSIVE CRITERIA

Within the EU debate, the problem is now mostly discussed as a rule of law problem. Indeed the four foreign ministers called for a ‘rule of law’ initiative. A recent conference of the Fundamental Rights Agency was focused on developing rule of law indicators. It is unclear why the criteria of Copenhagen and Article 2 of the EU Treaty have been narrowed down to the rule of law. Possibly because the rule of law appears to be a more technical issue with less scope for political controversy than the notions of democracy and human rights. It also appears that the problems in Hungary, partly focused on the relationship between a dominant parliament and the Constitutional Court, are seen as rule of law issues rather than a democracy problem. After all, the ruling party enjoys a
two-third majority. This would, however, be a misconception. The Hungarian case is a showpiece of a century-old democracy problem, namely the danger of tyrannical majorities.

Even if one considered Hungary to be primarily a rule of law problem, there is a risk of fighting the last battle. The next crisis could be triggered by flawed elections in some member states, clearly a democracy problem. Therefore a lasting solution should be constructed from the beginning on the basis of all fundamental values enshrined in Article 2.

Many policy-makers promote a definition of the rule of law which is broad, including key aspects of democracy and human rights protection. While this approach is preferable to any narrow definition, it is not anchored entirely in international and EU law.7 Of the three main concepts in
Article 2, the rule of law is the least codified in international law. In contrast, the other elements of Article 2, in particular human rights, are codified in detail at EU, Council of Europe and UN levels. All EU member states agreed to a definition of essential elements of democracy, including the rule of law and human rights, in the UN General Assembly.8

7 It may be best expressed in the OSCE’s 1990 Copenhagen commitment: “participating states ‘consider that the rule of law does not mean merely a formal legality which assures regularity and consistency in the achievement and enforcement of democratic order, but justice based on the recognition and full acceptance of the supreme value of the human personality and guaranteed by institutions providing a framework for its fullest expression“ point 2.
8 SeeUN GA resolution A/RES/59/201. For an elaboration, see International Consensus: Essential Elements of Democracy, DRI Report, October 2011, which can be downloaded here: http://www.democracyreporting.org/files/essential_elements_of_democracy_2.pdf

WHO IS AFRAID OF THE UNITED NATIONS: CRITERIA BASED IN INTERNATIONAL LAW AND EU LAW

The refining of parameters to assess the Article 2 criteria should be based on international and EU law, be it hard or soft law. Only parameters grounded in law and clear political commitments carry the necessary political authority, which academic definitions do not have. Academic criteria could be easily dismissed by any government as irrelevant.

Parameters should be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights ICCPR) as well as regional treaties, such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and political commitments, including from the UN and OSCE frameworks.

There is reluctance among some EU policymakers to consider the UN framework as relevant to solve this European challenge, although the June Council meeting concluded that there should be a “focus on shared universal values” (emphasis added).9 Supra

Not applying these obligations and commitments would be inconsistent with the EU’s desire to promote a rule based international order. It creates inconsistencies between the EU’s internal dimension and its external relations. Why promote the application of the ICCPR in third states, but not consider it relevant to democracy problems at home? Taking into account the normative framework of the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, which apply to all EU member states, is not the same as inviting their institutions to solve the problem.

WHO SHOULD ADDRESS THE PROBLEM?

Assessment Framework: Facts have to be assessed on the basis of a framework. First, this includes the regulatory framework: which hard and soft law obligations exist to measure facts against them? In relation to Article 2 values, Europe enjoys a dense regulatory framework, starting with UN instruments and also including Council of Europe obligations,
OSCE commitments and EU law. As previously argued, all of these frameworks should be applied to assess Article 2 compliance. The EU should not ignore the ICCPR or the ECHR when applying Article 2. Indeed these sources of law contain many detailed provisions to assess whether fundamental values are violated or not.11 Second, the assessment
framework should include an evaluation of the overall political context in order to make sure that the assessment is grounded in solid understanding of the current politics in a given EU member state. Public confidence in the democratic process would need to be a key criterion in this regard. For example, in election observation it is important to ascertain the overall public confidence in an electoral process. If
confidence is high, it is less likely that the process is flawed. If, however, the entire opposition expresses its lack of confidence in an election, there is a clear need for careful evaluation.

Enforcement: Enforcement comes in once facts have been assembled and assessed and a violation of obligations has been found. This is the most difficult part of the debate. For example, the Venice Commission, the most authoritative European institution dealing with constitutional matters, already found a threat to constitutional justice in Hungary, negatively affecting the core elements of democracy, human rights and the rule of law which underpin the Council of Europe and which form the core of Article 2 of the EU Treaty. The Venice Commission however has no enforcement mechanism to remedy the situation. Because it is not an EU
body, it only has indirect influence on the EU’s decisionmaking. If one accepted the finding of Europe’s primary constitutional body, the Hungarian situation would already trigger the first step of Article 7. According to its paragraph 1, the Council may determine that there is a “clear risk of a breach by a member state of fundamental values enshrined in Article 2.” But this enforcement mechanism can only be
triggered by EU institutions. Any debate on enforcement therefore must discuss how the authoritative assessments of other institutions affect the EU-internal enforcement process. What would happen if tomorrow the OSCE/ODIHR found an election in a member state to violate essential electoral obligations? It must also address how findings of EU agencies,
such as FRA, would affect the enforcement process.

EU bodies that may play a role in enforcement include the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council and the European Court of Justice12 and, potentially, EU agencies such as FRA. The letter of the four foreign ministers suggests that the EU Commission should play a special role here in its capacity as the ‘Guardian of the Treaties’. The EP’s Civil Liberties Committee recommends a number of steps the Commission could take, including the establishment of a ‘Copenhagen Mechanism’ which “could take the form of a Copenhagen Commission or high-level group” and “should be independent from political influence, work in full cooperation with other international bodies and monitor respect for fundamental rights uniformly in all member states.”13 All these suggestion deserve careful analysis to ensure that the solution is credible, effective, comprehensive and fair and thus able to make a difference.

A The Washington Post-ban, a Fox News-ban, és 100-nál is több más külföldi forrásban az alábbi Associated Press híradás jelent meg:

Hungary’s Orban clashes with EU parliament [By RAF CASERT and PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press, July 2, 2013]

BRUSSELS (AP) — Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban clashed Tuesday with his critics in the European Union’s parliament over his government’s perceived democratic failings.

On the eve of a vote on a critical report on the way his parliamentary majority runs Hungary, Orban came over especially from Budapest to the legislature in Strasbourg, France, to defend his policies and to urge the EU not to meddle in Hungary’s internal affairs.

Beyond the principles of democracy, the protracted session turned into a fundamental debate on the limits of national sovereignty and the duty of the EU to step in if it perceives there is a risk fundamental rights are under threat in any of its 28 member nations.

For Orban, the answer was clear.

He insisted that he and his Fidesz party "don’t want a Europe where the unity expressed by the two-thirds majority is condemned instead of respected."

The EU parliamentary report up for vote on Wednesday backed many of the complaints heard since Orban swept to power in 2010, specifically on the respect for minorities and for democratic principles in the judiciary and freedom of expression.

It made for a raucous debate, in which Orban staunchly denied Hungary was veering off the path of democracy despite a change in some laws that his critics say has impacted on fundamental freedoms.

"This report is deeply unjust toward Hungary and the people of Hungary," Orban said. "It openly applies double standards, does not recognize, undervalues and downgrades the huge work with which Hungarians have renewed their country."

Others though, criticized the report for not going far enough to demand more supervision of the politics in a member state.

"We ought to stand firm in protecting the basic principles of the European Union," said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal ALDE group. "How much more evidence do we need before recognizing that in Hungary there is a risk of serious breach of European fundamental values?"

Last month legal experts from the Council of Europe, the continent’s biggest human rights watchdog said that Hungary’s constitutional changes under Orban endanger the system of checks and balances. However, it backed off more scathing language after Hungary made some concessions.

The contested measures include strict limits on the definition of family that discriminates against gays, criminalization of the homeless and limits on political advertisements that the constitutional court has already said harms the principle of free speech.

While Hungary has pledged to change parts of the recent constitutional amendment which the EU found objectionable, the government still dismisses most criticism from the EU as politically and economically motivated.

Most of the special taxes introduced by the Orban government since 2010, including those on banks, the telecommunications sector, retailers and gas and electricity companies, affect mainly foreign-owned companies. Orban claims the complaints in Brussels are aimed at pressuring Hungary into changing its economic policies.

On Tuesday, Orban accused the EU of double standards in judging Hungary and berated it for failing to recognize the government’s economic achievements, including falling unemployment and a growing economy.

While Hungary has achieved success in some key economic indicators, it has come at a high cost. At 27 percent, Hungary has the EU’s highest sales tax. It has also nationalized over $14 billion of assets previously managed by private pension funds and foreign investment has fallen sharply due to the government’s habit of changing laws quickly and without consultation.

——

Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary.

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